Feb 13, 2014

The Beefcake Empire of Ancient Crete

When I was a kid in the Midwest, I thought of Greece as a "good place," where same-sex desire was open and free, based on the My Village books of Sonia and Tim Gidal, books on Greek mythology, some movies set in modern Greece.

And a small paperback book, The Bull of Minos, by Leonard Cottrell.

 It told me about the Minoan Empire of Crete and the Aegean Sea, that predated the Greeks and was completely forgotten until Arthur Evans excavated the Palace at Knossos in 1900.

Their language is unknown.  They had two alphabets, one partially translated, the other still a mystery.

What kid wouldn't find that fascinating?

But the illustrations (and the illustrations I found in other books) were even more fascinating, displaying an exuberant interest in the male form.

There were some naked ladies, including a topless snake goddess, but many more naked or loincloth-clad men serving beverages, leaping over bulls, farming, fishing, hugging each other as if they are lovers, and just standing, waiting to be objects of desire after 3300 years.

That's right, leaping over bulls.  Apparently bullfighting originated in an ancient Minoan ceremony where semi-nude young athletes grabbed bulls by the horns and leaped over them, a spectacle of man and muscle without the blood.

Remember Theseus in Greek mythology, who had to enter the labyrinth and fight the monstrous minotaur?  This is most likely a memory of a homoerotic ritual, in which a naked warrior fights a man in a bull costume to signify the triumph of civilization over barbarism.

Others have noticed the masculine energy of the ancient Minoans.

The Minoan Brotherhood, founded by Edmund Buczynski in 1977, draws from the Minoan mysteries to enact neopagan rituals for gay and bisexual men.

In 2008 British composer Harrison Birtwhistle transformed the story into an opera, The Minotaur.  The Minotaur (John Tomlinson) gains the power of speech and despairs of his violent existence, while Theseus (beefy Johan Reuer, right) looks to him for meaning.

Flights from Athens to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, take about an hour, but it's more fun to go by boat.  You can stop off at the gay resort of Mykonos on the way.  (Also stop at the Penis Festival in Tyrnavos.)

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